Amanda Pina, School of the Jaguar, 2012, illustration from the book

Towards an age of listening and relationality – talking to Rolando Vázquez about Vistas of Modernity

Issue no3
juni - juli 2021
Makers Of Their Own Time - Relational Activism

In Vistas of Modernity Rolando Vázquez draws together insights and action points situated within decolonial thought that call for the end of the contemporary. Leana Boven talks to Vázquez about the aesthesic move he envisions: one from enunciation and representation towards listening and relationality.

Through the insightful essay Vistas of Modernity – decolonial aesthesis and the end of the contemporary (2020) written by Rolando Vázquez we are introduced to his critical and analytical reflections on the logic of modernity and the reproduction of colonial difference. We come to understand that decoloniality centers a shared understanding that we owe our existence to the existence of others and the earth, and the impossibility of living a meaningful and ethical life within the modern/colonial order.

In Vistas of Modernity Vázquez draws together insights and action points situated within decolonial thought that call for the end of the contemporary and a decolonial transformation of cultural and academic institutions by transitioning from the age of enunciation and representation towards the age of listening and relationality. Vistas of Modernity invites us to think beyond the dominant paradigms to overcome the colonial difference and heal the colonial wound, and move towards restoring our relations with the earth, the communal, and time.

Book presented at Kunstinstituut Melly, 2021

Back of postcard, 'Vistas of Modernity', design by Stout/Kramer

—Leana Boven Can you share what Vistas of Modernity is about and what the term ‘decolonial aesthesis’ entails?

—Rolando Vázquez ‘The book is about ‘the vistas of modernity’. The term vistas was a popular term at the end of the 19th century - beginning of the 20th century. It was a term used for postcard booklets in a time where people did not have their own camera, so they would get a postcard book with the vistas of Paris or the vistas of Berlin and so on. The idea was to use the common views that were used at the beginning of mass visual culture, that started with the circulation of postcards, where the circulation of the images could happen because photographic reproduction was beginning to shape the western order of aesthetics. The book takes the common postcards to discover how the modern/colonial divide shapes our way of looking at the world.
The field of decoloniality explains how our current world-order has been constructed through modernity/coloniality. One of our main premises is that there is no modernity without coloniality. That means that we cannot account for the history of western civilization, progress and development without the history of colonialism, enslavement, extraction, exploitation and racism. They are entangled histories, so looking at the modern/colonial order gives us a more complex and truthful understanding of our world. In Vistas of Modernity we analyze how the modern/colonial order has not only been an economic or political order (not only capitalism or the nation-state) nor just an order of knowledge (an epistemic order), but that it has also been an aesthetic order. This means that the aesthetic order, that is the form through which we represent the world and the forms through which we experience the world, are also controlled by the modern/colonial divide.
The task of decolonizing aesthetics is to uncover other forms of sensing and experiencing the world that have been suppressed under the modern/colonial order. This is what we call decolonial aesthesis. Walter Mignolo uses the word aesthesis to distinguish it from aesthetics. While esthetics refers to the regulation of the senses through the canon of aesthetics developed in the west, aesthesis refers to all those worlds of sensing, meaning and perception that are not necessarily under the logic of aesthetics.‘

'While esthetics refers to the regulation of the senses through the canon of aesthetics developed in the west, aesthesis refers to all those worlds of sensing, meaning and perception that are not necessarily under the logic of aesthetics'

Front of postcard, 'Vistas of Modernity', design by Stout/Kramer

—Leana Boven The question of how to live an ethical life is one that is mentioned quite often in Vistas of Modernity and in your talks. Could you explain how this question is related to the call for the end of the contemporary?

—Rolando Vázquez ‘One of the problems we see when we analyze the colonial divide, and in particular the conditions of life of the modern subject that are explored in the book, is how we are constituted ‘in separation’. The modern subject becomes viable by being separated from the earth and from the communal. Our body, our language, our ways of talking come from others, but we are separated from our memory, from our history, and our collective histories within the modern/colonial order. We are made to think just in the present and are always projected towards a utopia or futurity.
Our response draws from feminist, Black and Indigenous philosophies and centers relationality. We ask: how to begin, how to nourish and respond with relational practices - practices that bring us back in relationship with the earth, with others around us (proximate and distant others), and with a longer and deeper temporal consciousness? We are not just self-made in the present. These questions around time bring us to call for the end of the contemporary. Contemporaneity is for us one of the manifestations of that modern idea of time in which time is only valuable in the contemporary, in the moment of the now, as the singular most advanced point in history. The modern notion of time has been one of the basic colonial structures of discrimination, the modern subject and the west was placed in the present were as the other peoples of the world were displaced to the past, as backward or even as outside history, with no history.
In the task of relating back or overcoming the presentism of modernity, we need to overcome the contemporary as a normative value, as a structure of time. Many social struggles around the world, such as the struggles to preserve the mountains, the rivers, languages or ways of living, have a deep sense of time not as a source of conservatism but as a source of transformation. We are confronted with the task of remembering who we are. The practice of remembering is very central in Vistas of Modernity: the task of remembering who we are in a system that makes us forget and captures us as being only one in the present. That is why we think it is not about extending the contemporary globally, but about ending the contemporary as a temporal logic that is implicated in the forgetfulness of the earth, of our relationship with others and of our own temporal existence.’

'The practice of remembering is very central in Vistas of Modernity: the task of remembering who we are in a system that makes us forget and captures us as being only one in the present'

—Leana Boven This makes me think of the art works of Saodat Ismailova that are discussed in Vistas of Modernity, titled The Haunted and Qyrq Qyz: Forty Girls. You write that Ismailova’s works are about the act of mourning, engaging in the task of imagining a life after the loss of futures, and the possibility of survival in a reality that is witness to the loss of living relationships. Nowadays themes like imagination as a practice of hope and futurity are very visible, whereas Vistas of Modernity often mentions the loss of futures and de-futuring. Could you elaborate more on this concept of de-futuring?

—Rolando Vázquez ‘We are confronted with a system that on the one hand praises innovation, novelty and contemporaneity, but that is leading us to the foreclosure of the future and the end of the future. Particularly in the question of defuturing, help us understand how the violence of coloniality comes to play to cancel the possibility of plural futures. The coloniality that sustains modernity has meant the erasure of other worlds of sensing and meaning, it has implied epistemicide, that is, the erasure of other languages and knowledges, as well as ecocide the mass extraction of earth resources and the extinction of species and habitats. The loss of languages and species means that they have no more future, this is the process of defuturing. The plurality of species and worlds that is being threatened, is what holds the possibility of diverse and open futures. The ongoing destruction of the material heritage of earth and of the plural heritage of cultures means a radical reduction of the possible paths into the future. Paradoxically in a civilization that raises novelty, security and contemporaneity we are experiencing the loss of the future. However, when we listen to First Nations’, Indigenous or Black struggles, we see possibilities for hope, because hope is grounded in remembering and remembering back what has been dis-remembered. The task of re-membering will obviously produce another to come but a to come that is grounded, that is not just a future for the future itself. The horizon of hope is also a horizon of healing.
For those of us concerned with these questions, the task has to do with having hope, with remembering and with healing. It is a movement from the indolence of consumption, in which you consume things that imply the suffering of others, but that you do not feel because you are isolated in that individuality, towards a relational logic that moves through compassion as well, where you are moved by the suffering of others. You come to know that as consumer you are not in a neutral position in the world, but that you are implicated in the suffering of others and the destruction of the earth. And for us that is a difficult position to have, but acknowledging our being implicated gives us the possibility of acting and taking responsibility. We try to move beyond a position of false innocence towards a position of responsibility where we can do something, no matter how small.’

Title page of 'Vistas of Modernity', design by Stout/Kramer

—Leana Boven In Vistas of Modernity you state that cultural and academic institutions hold the power over representation over our experience of the world, and that this power is a mechanism of erasure. Can you share more about your proposition in Vistas of Modernity to move towards the logic of reception and listening instead of representation? And who should these cultural and academic institutions listen to?

—Rolando Vázquez‘Cultural and academic institutions are at the center of the power of representation, namely the epistemic and aesthetic power that is about who represents the world and who determines how we experience the world, which is implicated in the modern/colonial order and in the erasure of other worlds. The task of decolonizing cultural and academic institutions, where decolonizing means precisely to shift from that logic of the power of representation over others and the power to represent others, into the logic of reception. How can we imagine these institutions as spaces for listening, of pluriversality, of undoing the dominant differences instituted by gender, race and other forms of discrimination? How to instead think of institutions that function through relational coalitions and become spaces who listen necessarily to those aesthesis and those knowledges that have been dismissed and erased by the modern/colonial order?
I think that this is one of the key issues with decolonizing the canon, the curriculum, and the collections, but also the staff and the publics: it is a very deep transformation that is called for and that is emerging. The youth are very aware that the world in which they live is not the world these institutions portray. Institutions used to hold the monopoly of knowledge, but they do not any longer. University students and activists involved with questioning museums or public statues are knowledgeable of other histories that are not taught in the universities and have not been represented in the museums. They are asking: “why are my histories absent?” “Why is that single view the only view?” This is the task of decolonizing: we want a more truthful, a more complex and plural understanding of the world in which we live. That requires to be more inclusive, to foster spaces for pluriversality, for non-dominant difference. This is a process of the humbling of modernity, meaning recognizing its own implication in coloniality, to then move towards relationality.'

Vistas of Modernity is a new title in a series of essays commissioned by the Mondriaan Fund, and is published by Jap Sam Books. It will be launched on Saturday September 11th 2021 in Melly. More information here.

Rolando Vázquez, Vistas of Modernity – decolonial aesthesis and the end of the contemporary - English, 182 pages - € 15, order via www.japsambooks.nl or click here.

Rolando Vázquez is co-organizer of the Maria Lugones Decolonial Summer School. He is associate professor of Sociology and Cluster Chair at University College Utrecht, Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

 

Leana Boven
is a curator, cultural programmer and researcher with a background in gender and (post)colonial studies. She curated the exhibition On Collective Care & Togetherness at MAMA in Rotterdam, and currently works as a curator at Casco Art Institute: Working for the Commons

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